I walked into the study and smiled hearing the shrill giggle which was quickly hiccupped out.

“Oh,” I said loudly looking about, “I had thought I might find my daughter, but it appears she is far too good at hiding.”

Another giggle.

“Ah, Athena there you are,” Martin said walking in, I looked at him. “What are you doing?”

“Well, I was hoping that a certain Viscountess would be interested in going to Dugarry House with me to see her Uncle,” I exhaled. “But it seems she’s disappeared.”

“Oh no,” Martin said with a grin, playing along, “maybe it was shadows?”

“It’s possible,” I sighed, “although I’m sure she would fight them far too fiercely.”

“Hmm,” Martin winked at me and I shook my head in a silent laugh. “Well, I will simply have to tell Grandmama that no one can eat the sticky buns that Cook made, since Calla has been captured while fighting shadows.”

“Nooo!” Calla came running out from behind a curtain, her strawberry curls, somewhere between my blonde and Aaron’s red, flying behind her. “Grandpapa, I did not get captured by shadows, I can eat them.” I laughed and scooped her up.

“I am so relieved,” I kissed her. She giggled. “Now, do you want to go see Uncle Tristan?” She nodded emphatically. “We’ll bring the sweets to him, I think, he’ll like that.”

“Yes,” she said, “I think he will.”

“And,” I said as I walked out into the hall, “you know you aren’t supposed to be in the study.”

“Papa said I could,” Calla smiled wiggling, so that I put her down.

“No,” Martin said, “your Papa said when he was there you could go in, but there are too many weapons for you to be there alone.”

“Aunt Lisette had weapons when she was little,” Calla planted her feet. I knelt down.

“Aunt Lisette was six when your Grandpapa Caleb gave her a knife,” I said, “in three years you can have one.” She nodded and ran off, likely to find Olivia.

“She is just like you,” Martin laughed.

“She’s worse,” I said, “she’s clever like her father.” He laughed. “I don’t know why Tristan’s been avoiding us.”

“I don’t think that he’s avoiding us,” Tom shook his head. I frowned at him. “Athena, Tristan has been on a mission for four months. When was the last time you and Aaron were apart from each other for longer than a week?”

“Before we were married when you buried Caleb,” I mumbled. “Well, alright, but still, it’s been four days. I’m going there.” I walked out to the hall, where Calla was standing with her arms folded, Aaron behind her.

“Mama, you are taking too long,” Calla said, Aaron looked at me.

“I apologize,” I said, “Are you coming?” He shook his head.

“Normally I wouldn’t miss it, but I’ve got a pile of reports to read before council convenes when we get to Dovetail,” he said. “How are you feeling?” I shrugged. “Athena.”

“I’m fine,” I said and kissed him gently. I moved his hand to my belly. “We’re fine.”

“Mama and the baby are fine Papa,” Calla insisted. “She said so.”

“And your Mama never lies,” Aaron grinned. I laughed. I knew I was only a few weeks from not being able to hide this pregnancy, and I also knew that as soon as we arrived in Dovetail, Elodie and Marina would be fussing over me like mother hens. They were unbearable while I was carrying Calla.

I’m going to enjoy the last of my freedom. We walked through the village to the small flower garden surrounding DuGarry House. I don’t think I’ll ever be tired of each, “Good Morning, Countess,” or “And where are we off to in such a hurry Lady Calla?”

“Auntie Caro!” Calla exclaimed as she ran down the path and I saw Carolina closing the door behind her, a basket in hand and shawl around her shoulders.

“Hello, Little One,” Caro smiled and knelt down in front of her. “Had I known you were coming, I’d have changed my plans,” Calla pouted as I walked over. “Good morning Thena.”

“Good Morning,” I said, “you’re on your own?” She rolled her eyes.

“Maybe you can make him see sense, I’ve given up,” she shrugged.

“No fair giving up after four years,” I pointed at her, “I’ve had to do it for twenty two.” She laughed. “Dinner?”

“We’ll be there,” she said, “do you need anything?” I shook my head. “Enjoy your visit with Uncle, Calla, love.” They brushed their noses together. I smiled gently and we walked in. Tristan was in his office.

“Uncle Tristan!” Calla walked over to him. He smiled at her and stood up. She saluted him, and he saluted her back.

“Recruit,” he said seriously, “is Pantona protected?”

“Yes, Commander,” she matched his tone. He laughed.

“Good, your next order is to give me a hug.” She giggled and ran into his arms. “Hello Thena.”

“Hello,” I said, “I’m sorry we missed Caro.”

“Well, she’s busy,” he said, “I delayed her long enough it would seem,” I nodded. “Can I help you with something?”

“I wanted to see you,” I said and sat on the couch, “but if you’re in a mood.” He looked at me.

“I am not in a mood,” he muttered. “I was looking forward to a relaxing respite with my wife, but that was out of the question.”

“You had three days,” I said, “and the rest of your family misses you when you’re away, you know.”

“Do you?” He managed a smile.

“Yes,” Calla nodded emphatically, “we miss you very much,” he laughed and put her down. “May I go see Elian?”

“You may,” Tristan smiled, “but listen to the grooms before petting him.” She nodded and ran off. “She’s grown.”

“She never stops,” I said, “I didn’t come for a report or anything, I really did just want to see you.” He laughed.

“I know, I’m edgy,” he sighed. I nodded. “It was a dull mission, we didn’t find anything, which is why we stayed out so long and then we went to Allred’s,” he groaned. “He’s going to try to disinherit Evan.”

“He won’t succeed,” I shrugged, “being married to The Queen’s Cousin has some benefits.” He snorted.

“Sleeping with her might have more,” he pointed out.

“Didn’t work out for you or Harran but Prior’s welcome to try, I guess,” I poked him. He laughed. “Tristan,” I said softly. He looked at me. “I’m pregnant.” He swallowed and nodded.

“That’s good news,” he said. I nodded. “Really, Athena, I’m happy for you.” I nodded. “Does Caro know?”

“No,” I said, “no one outside our house knows. It would have just wound up with Marina riding out here like mad, furious with me for letting anyone else do the examination.” He laughed.

“Who else besides us, tonight?” He asked. I swallowed.

“Anselm,” I said, “William,” he glared at me. “It wasn’t his fault, you can’t hate him forever.”

“I wonder if Marina or Annalise would agree with you,” he said. “Or Anselm?”

“Tristan it isn’t as though he walked into the cell and opened the door,” I said. “He missed the signs, we all did!” He looked at me.

“Watching the signs was his only job,” Tristan roared. “Instead of holding him here, of telling us, he gets away, and the past four years.”

“I know,” I whispered, “but he was with us. In the beginning, he was with us. And with Lisette and Aaron before that.” He frowned. “You can’t fix this, Tristan, it happened.” He looked at me strangely.

“I’m sorry I was gone so long, Thena,” he said. “But what I’m doing,” I pressed my lips into my mouth.

“Don’t talk to me about what you’re doing,” I muttered, “I know, I know it’s important. It’s what I should be doing.” I pressed my palms against my forehead. “I’m The Champion, I’m chosen.”

“And you’re The Countess of Pantona,” he shrugged, “and a mother, and a wife. Do you think that if Caro were,” he stopped, “I’d stop all of it to have a family.” I smiled at him.

“You will,” I said. He shrugged. “Tristan,” he looked at me. “You will. It will happen.”

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